How Kuminga benefited from tough, closed-door conversations with Kerr

Jonathan Kuminga’s path to Warriors success was far from linear, and it took years of trials and tribulations, plus developing a relationship with coach Steve Kerr to finally earn a consistent role.

The rising young star joined NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole and Kerith Burke on the latest episode of “Dubs Talk,” where he discussed how his relationship with Kerr has evolved since his rookie 2021-22 NBA season.

“It’s funny, I think my first two years here we sat down a lot, just to build a relationship and understand each other because we’re two very different people,” Kerr told Poole and Burke. “And obviously not sitting down every single day, even if it’s just two minutes, it was just to build a good relationship.

“Obviously, as you guys see now, me and Steve have a good relationship where I can just go into his office and sit down and talk to him about, not just basketball, but life, about family, about grandson, granddaughter, things like that. I have to build that with him every other day because it wasn’t an easy time, especially when me and him sit down and actually get to talk because we really did not know each other. So obviously every time I go out there and talk to him our conversation ends up (going) well.”

The conversations with Kerr weren’t always easy, and oftentimes consisted of the same message over and over again. But Kuminga saw the bigger picture and knew what he was working toward.

“It’s always about the same thing, he always wants to help me to see the bigger picture,” Kuminga shared. “And obviously, I saw the bigger picture, but the way Steve explained it, it’s way better because he’s way older than me, he knows how life goes, he played basketball too. It’s just him telling me even everything I did good he felt I could do it better. So just him making me understand that every single day. It’s not easy to just tell somebody ‘I need you to do this’ every other day. You can’t tell somebody one time and expect them to really get it.

“And that’s why I said we had to build that relationship where we get to sit every day and he tells me the same thing, I’ve got to earn certain things, got to play harder, got to do better on certain things. Obviously, time goes by and it’s like music playing in my head and that’s what’s kind of helping me just come out here and play free and just be a great player.”

Kuminga reportedly “lost faith” in Kerr after the frustrated young forward was benched for the final 18 minutes of the Warriors’ loss to the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 4. Kuminga clarified that he did not actually lose faith, but felt that he and other young Warriors players had the potential to impact winning in bigger roles.

“I did not lose faith with being here,” Kuminga clarified. “It’s not what I said. It was just definitely to a point where I felt like I need to be out there, I feel like I could help. I feel like there was just so much left on the table where I feel like me, the young guys could go out there and help Steph [Curry], Klay [Thompson] and Draymond [Green]. And obviously, since that happened we actually got a chance to have all the young guys on the floor.

“And obviously having all the young guys on the floor and now everybody playing, it’s helping us win games and everybody getting better every day. It was obviously just me trying to go out there and just find a way to play, find a way to be on the floor, find a way to help every young guy get their chance. And I just see every young guy getting a chance, including me, when we’re out there, doing the things that we’re supposed to be doing.”

In 31 games since his benching against the Nuggets, Kuminga is averaging 19.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists and has earned a consistent role in Kerr’s starting five.

While there still is plenty of development left for the 21-year-old, it’s clear that Kuminga has come a long way both in his play on the court and his relationships off of it.

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